THE NAGGING dilemma of hunger is an “unacceptable issue which is a result of lack of respect for life,” Pope Benedict XVI said in the recent United Nations Food Summit last June 1.

In his message, the Pope stressed that in order to fight hunger, people’s rights and dignity must be upheld.

“The primary right to food is intrinsically linked to the safeguarding and defense of human life,” the Pope said. “Each person has the right to life.

The Supreme Pontiff urged UN delegates to take on “new commitments with great determination” in promoting human rights by helping the poor gain access to food through increased production.

However, bolstering food production faces an uphill climb as world food prices continue to soar despite reports from the Food and Agriculture sector of the United Nations of a 2.6 percent production growth on cereal products this year.

The same 2.6 percent buffer was declared by the United States Department of State as its expected increase for grain production this year.

The Pope also pointed to the global and commercial interest of food distributors as factors affecting the inaccessibility of affordable food stuffs in the local market.

Food distributors, for one, normally increase the price of their goods in order to cover transportation expenses as a result of the continuous oil price hike.

Last June 3, the United States Department of Agriculture reported that the price of grain, the most basic of agricultural products, had increased worldwide by as much as 50 percent compared to last year.

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“Aside from economic and commercial factors, natural disasters also affect the production of agricultural commodities,” a report from Zenit, a Rome-based news agency, stated.

Australia, the second largest exporter of agricultural products according to the Agricultural Commodities Sector Profile, is currently experiencing extended drought, hindering the production of wheat and rice in the Murray-Darling Basin, the country’s fertile agricultural base.

But for the Pope, these are not excuses to deny the people their right to basic human needs, such as food.

“Purely technical and economic considerations must not prevail over the duties of justice toward people suffering from hunger,” the Pope said.

The Pope added that global crises like international armed conflicts and natural disasters should not hinder man from improving the quality of his life.

“Armed conflicts, outbreaks of disease, adverse atmospheric and environmental conditions and the massive forced displacement of peoples should serve as a motivation to redouble our efforts to provide each person with his or her daily bread,” he said.

Addressing the High-Level Conference on World Food Security last June 3, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon emphasized humanity’s right to food.

“Nothing is more degrading than hunger, especially when man-made,” Ban said. “It breeds anger, social disintegration, ill-health and economic decline.”

In the Philippines, the government, with the help of the Church, has put up rice outlets in poor communities, among other measures, to secure food supplies for the country, which is now the world’s largest rice importer.

Meanwhile, Caritas Manila, the charitable arm of the Archdiocese of Manila, launched its own Hapag-asa feeding program. Robin G. Padilla

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